Ho, ho, ho. HP has an early holiday present for anyone building SaaS and cloud applications. The PC giant has unveiled Elastic Test, an on-demand cloud-based web server load testing service, aimed at helping e-commerce sites prepare for massive traffic spikes as the holiday shopping season approaches. Here's the scoop.

First, let's cut right to the chase: Elastic Test is now available directly from HP's SaaS division.

Now, the HP spin: With the economy in shambles and bargains in high demand, HP is predicting an increase in web traffic to online stores that has the potential to completely take down unprepared websites, especially as more and more businesses put in bandwidth-heavy features like Flash interfaces.

"You end up with poor performance and security holes," says Mark Sarbiewski, senior director of products for HP Software & Solutions. "It's really the time to get this right."

HP is touting its new service as truly elastic (just like The VAR Guy's waistline), meaning that you pay based on the number of virtual users (at a rate of 50 cents per) you want generated at an HP data center at any one time. They emulate (or, as they put it, "play back") your site's code on their servers, and hit it as hard as you asked them to. Once you see what breaks, you can fix it and try again, rather than wait for everything to go wrong when it hits the fan in November.

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